Home Features Leadership New CECU President Hopes to Give Career College Sector a Voice in Biden Administration
New CECU President Hopes to Give Career College Sector a Voice in Biden Administration

New CECU President Hopes to Give Career College Sector a Voice in Biden Administration


Written from an interview with Dr. Jason Altmire, President and CEO, Career Education Colleges and Universities

Some might say it’s a marriage made in heaven. Others might say that he’s simply at the right place at the right time. There is no doubt that for Jason Altmire, the new president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, the planets seem to be aligning, making him optimistic that CECU will be able to give the sector a voice and thus make a difference with the new Biden administration.

Altmire said he was interested in the CECU position because he has a strong background in education and is a big believer in the sector. He started his career as a Congressional staffer in the early 1990s, working for a congressman who then served on the Education and Labor Committee. Next, he worked a stint in health care before he decided to run for Congress.

As a former three-term Congressman and active member of the Higher Education Subcommittee for the Education and Labor Committee, he intimately knows people and the political process.

But he said he also has the business background needed for the job. “When I left Congress in 2013, I went to work as a senior vice president for Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Florida,” – a $20 billion enterprise with 12,000 employees. But that doesn’t mean he thinks the job will be easy. He expects it to be a “tough road” as some of the arguments on Gainful Employment and Borrower Defense are likely to come up again.

Still, Altmire said he has a good relationship with Biden and some of the people who are going to be in the decision-making capacity in the new Department of Education. “So I think we’ll be able to have access to make the case with Congress and the new administration,” he said.

Altmire said he has already met twice with Biden’s transition team. “At their request, we are putting together a letter that outlines our issues and concerns with the various policies that we know we’ll be facing,” he said. “I really want to avoid the adversarial kind of viewpoint that both sides have of one another. The case I have made is (that) we all share the same goals. We want student access, accountability and transparency. We want people to be accountable for outcomes.”

The sector always argued that everyone should be treated the same, and that all schools should play by the same rules regardless of their tax status, he said.

“The pushback always was … the data doesn’t exist and it’ll be too time consuming and work intensive to find that (data),” he said.

But that’s no longer the case. This time, there is data to back up their statements. The College Scorecard, an online tool created by the United States government, allows consumers to compare the cost and value of higher education institutions in the United States.

“We’ve seen over the years … that there are high and low performers in every sector,” Altmire said. “So I feel like we’re in a much stronger position to make that case that everybody should play by the same rules, and the regulations and any potential laws that are passed should apply to every sector across the board.”

Having a good relationship and being able to give-and-take in a positive way will pay dividends, he said.

“When you have that adversarial relationship, and you’re not able to share your points of view and have them taken seriously, you’re going to end up with a bad outcome. I know we’re not going to agree on everything, but I do feel like we’ll be in a position to adequately make our case and have very strong arguments … and hopefully have a better result.”

Altmire said the people who are the most adversarial to the sector always point to the high profile, publicly traded companies that had serious problems several years ago. But he said the sector has learned from those experiences and knows not to make the same mistakes that made the Obama administration take notice.

“We acknowledged those problems that happened in the past,” he said. “Lessons were learned and we’re moving forward as a sector.”

Altmire said the lines among schools are more fluid today due to mergers with for-profit, publicly traded companies and public universities. “We’ve learned in the COVID era that online education in our sector received higher student acceptance than in other sectors,” he said. “We were innovators long before … other schools were forced to do so with COVID.”

And that’s just one more reason why all schools should be looked at and held accountable to the same rules, he said.

In his first year as president and CEO of CECU, Altmire said they are going to need “all hands on deck” since there are people in decision-making positions within the Department of Education who won’t have the sector’s best interests at heart. That means CECU will need the resources and the expertise so they can consistently tell the stories of student success. But just as importantly, they need to engage employers and have them talk about how valuable their students are to their operations.

“We’re going to talk about economic development and (give) examples of where our schools have gone into socioeconomically downtrodden communities and have built campuses and brought people into downtowns and revitalized areas that were not doing so well before,” Altmire said. “We’re going to talk about veterans and single moms and people who are being retrained because they’ve lost their jobs and all the value that is brought by our schools.”

To tell those stories, CECU will need to modernize its website and communications capabilities, especially social media and grassroots advocacy.

“We are interviewing students and employers all across the country doing videos,” Altmire said. “We’re going to tell that story through grassroots (efforts) to members of Congress and policymakers all around the country.”

CECU will be hiring a new communications person who will be solely dedicated to getting messages out to policymakers such as members of Congress and staff of the Department of Higher Education. “We need to have an ability to quickly activate our grassroots and our students and be able to convey that message,” he said.

Altmire also hopes CECU will be able to increase its number of members, in part because of their access to the Biden administration. They want schools to become members so CECU can convey their success stories to the new administration, and tell them about the good things that are happening on their campuses with students and outcomes.

“I’m convinced that we are on the right side of the issue,” he said. “I have visited schools and I’ve seen the life-changing impact that our schools have on students. I know that when policymakers see the faces of these students and hear the stories of how employers are benefitting from our well-trained graduates, it can make all the difference. If you are a non-member and would like to have that story told to policymakers, you’re going to make a difference not just to your own institution, but also to the sector as a whole. We’re planning on changing minds in the new administration.”

CECU ended the year with several significant wins. First, the organization announced that they were able to secure $908 million in additional funding for their students served through financial aid grants in the new stimulus package. That’s on top of the original $1.1 billion in sector funding in the CARES Act. Altmire said the additional funding came about only because CECU successfully made the case of why their students should be included. According to their internal analysis, the students served at proprietary institutions will receive approximately $349 million more in COVID-19 relief funds than allocated in the CARES Act.

Efforts to change the 90/10 rule to 85/15 so far have failed after U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, added it into an appropriations bill. “She’s a very senior majority member of the House and definitely has a lot of clout, but we were able to get that stripped out of the final bill,” Altmire said, adding that CECU worked relentlessly to have that provision removed.

Another effort to include veterans and Department of Defense benefits in the 90-10 calculation was also foiled.

“Those are battles we are definitely going to have to fight again in the years ahead, but we were able to successfully have them removed this year,” he said.

For the future, Altmire said CECU will encourage more vendors to become involved in the organization and grow the number of allied members, or companies that deliver products, programs and services to the industry. In addition, they plan to expand access for allied members at its conferences.

“It’s critically important because telling the story of businesses that benefit from a relationship with our students and our schools is different from a policymaker’s perspective than just hearing from the schools in our sector,” he said. “There are some who would view a school’s message as biased and maybe put not as much credence into that message as they would from somebody who is perceived to be more of a neutral third party. So an allied member who is able to talk about their relationship with our schools and the benefit to communities that our schools and our students have is hugely important from an advocacy perspective.”

Altmire said schools should prepare for the regulatory and legislative onslaught that likely is coming by gathering student success stories to tell.

“If you’re a school wondering how you can prepare, be ready to tell your story,” he said. “We are going to do everything we can to get members of Congress and policymakers to visit schools and see the students because that makes all the difference.” But they also want to take those student messages – whether written, in videos or in person – to decision-makers about the life-changing impact their schools have.

Altmire said Gainful Employment and Borrower Defense will be coming back from the review perspective, as the Biden administration and campaign made it clear that for-profit schools should demonstrate value before they qualify for Title IV funds. However, Gainful Employment and Borrower Defense would have to go through the regulatory and rulemaking process, which could take years.

“But if they moved into conditions of participation, that’s one of the things that they might be able to do through executive action,” Altmire said. “So we are going to be ready right from the start to talk about why that’s not something that would be a good idea to do without thoughtful debate and a give-and-take with the sector.”

Because of the adversarial relationship in the past, CECU hasn’t been asked to share ideas or even be in the same room when those things are talked about. But with a personal relationship with many, including Biden, Altmire said he believes CECU will be in a position to have a conversation about the impact of the regulations that they are thinking about and convey their point of view on legislation to Congress.

“There are folks who probably are not going to change their minds because their minds are already made up,” he said. “But I do think we can provide facts and data that are going to make them think twice when we have this discussion about whether all schools in all sectors should have to play by the same rules. It’s going to be very difficult for them to continue to make that case when, unlike before, we have data showing that there are high and low performers in every sector.”

Data will be important in all discussions regarding the sector. In fact, CECU is completing research on how the COVID relief funds were used by institutions in the first round, and is also conducting research regarding veterans’ educational outcomes.

“We are looking at veterans’ outcomes and job placements and are going to have a lot of research and data and video and stories to tell about how veterans have benefitted from our schools … because we know that’s going to be a point of contention with the new administration and primarily Democrats in Congress,” he said.

Altmire said the biggest challenge for the sector is that the people who are in a position to make decisions on regulations and on legislation have an outdated view of the sector. That includes believing in things that happened in the past are still happening, and not drawing a distinction between four-year online liberal arts schools and career education schools.

“We’re going to make the case that every sector should be included and that you should look at the different types of schools in a different way,” Altmire said. “But there are going to be leaders that … who are not going to change their minds, and we don’t expect them to change their minds. They’re going to keep citing facts from the Harkin report and from companies that no longer exist.”

Altmire said CECU must successfully convey to policymakers the good news about what is happening in the sector today. The CECU Board is in agreement to engage the new administration differently than they did during the Obama administration, he said, since that led to bad policy decisions, lawsuits and poor media coverage.

“We really want to avoid that from happening again,” Altmire said. “We’re not going to change everyone’s mind, but we do want to be in the position where we can at least give our side of the story and talk about the successes that our schools have had. Then the other side can make the decision based upon the information that we give them, but at least they won’t be making decisions based upon an adversarial relationship.”

CECU will also continue to work with various groups such as state associations that are available with their “ear on the ground” in their respective states, veterans organizations that will be critically important in 90-10 discussions, as well as employers and local, state and national Chambers of Commerce, who can help CECU tell their stories how career-college graduates benefit businesses, he said.

In the long term, Altmire said his goals for CECU are to have a positive give-and-take relationship with the current administration, build its membership base so members across the sector have a voice in Washington, and modernize its communication capabilities in regards to its website, social media and grassroots activity. The end result must be for CECU to be able to do the advocacy work that needs to be done to influence members of Congress and people in decision-making positions in Washington, he said.

Jason Altmire

DR. JASON ALTMIRE is president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities. Before joining CECU in 2020, he was a senior executive for two multibillion-dollar health care companies and served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

During his time in Congress, he was particularly active on veterans issues, authoring nine provisions relating to veterans that were signed into law. He served as chairman of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Investigation and Oversight, and was an active member of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education. There, he successfully led the passage of several of his legislative initiatives, including incentives for partnerships between businesses and colleges to match curriculums to future workforce needs.

Altmire is an adjunct professor of health care management at Texas Tech University. He has previously been a guest lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University’s Public Policy and Management program and an adjunct professor at George Washington University focusing on politics and policy. He earned his Ph.D. in business administration from the University of Florida. He also has a master’s degree in health administration from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida State University.

Contact Information: Dr. Jason Altmire // President and CEO // Career Education Colleges and Universities // 571-970-3941 // president@career.org // https://www.career.org/



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